Researchers from Colorado State University are teaming with colleagues from several other universities to address food safety issues and the yield-robbing iris yellow spot virus and the thrips that spread it.

The two research projects are possible because of funding from the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, part of the 2008 Farm Bill.

The initiative will provided $28 million in funding late last year and an additional $40 million for projects this year.

Lawrence Goodridge, assistant professor in the Department of Animal  Sciences, received a $1.7 million grant for a four-year study involving researchers at the University of California, Davis; the University of Florida; Ohio State University, Rutgers University and the University of Guelph, Canada. They hope to establish sampling methods for evaluating the microbial safety of fresh produce.

"Fresh fruits and vegetables have increasingly become responsible for many cases of food borne illness," Goodridge said in a news release. "We will develop rapid, sensitive and reliable detection methods that are capable of detecting food borne pathogens and indicators of fecal contamination.

"Additionally, a risk-assessment model will be developed that will determine the types of agricultural water samples that are most likely to contain pathogens, such as E. coli 0157 H7 and Salmonella."

Goodridge says crops will be harvested, washed with large volumes of water, and then the wash water will be tested for contaminants.

The aim is to develop real-time tests for pathogens and biological and chemical indicators of fecal contamination. The ottom line is consumers will get safer produce that is tested before it leaves the farm.

In another project, Howard Schwartz, a plant pathology professor, is teaming with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's gricultural Research Service and the University of Wisconsin, New Mexico State University, Washington State University and the J. Craig Venter Institute, on a nearly $1 million, four-year project.

They plan to identify and attempt to control thrips and iris yellow spot virus, both identified as the most important threats to the sustainability of U.S. onion production.

During the past three years, studies with Colorado State entomology professor Whitney Cranshaw have found a strong association between the incidence of iris yellow spot virus and reduced bulb yield.

"We will conduct extensive field evaluations of elite cultivars and diverse germplasms of onion for resistance or tolerance to Iris yellow spot virus or thrips," Schwartz said in a release.